WordWeavers at Trowbridge Museum – First Session

For those who couldn’t make it….

A summary of what we did.  Confession: I stole the warm-up exercises from Vicki Feaver and Hugh Dunkerley who used them on a Creative Writing module at Chichester University in the early 1990s.

First, a quick warm-up exercise: write, in two minutes, a list of possible uses for this object

To you and me, an orange

Then, write possible uses from the point of view of a snail…. Then from point of view of the cartoon mouse Jerry (from Tom and Jerry).

Then read these poems Fork by Charles Simic and Memento Mori by Billy Collins and, in light of the poems, choose any item from the room and begin to write about it.  People chose an old-fashioned mangle (one of the joys of holding a writing class in an interesting museum), a wicker basket, a top hat and a fire warden’s hat, among other items.

Next, we considered how concrete items, such as an orange, a fork, and the desk lamp in Billy Collins’ poem, can be used for writing about something else, an abstract emotion or idea, loneliness, for example, growing older, liberty, freedom and so on.  And we used Julia Bell’s chapter on Abstracts from The Creative Writing Coursebook (Macmillan, 2001) to consider how to use metaphor and simile when writing about abstract concepts.

The next writing exercise, taken from Julia Bell’s chapter, was to list abstract words (anger, love, hate, joy etc) and to describe them through the five senses.  What colour is love? How does it smell? etc.  and the task was to be surprising, to cross out clichés or over-used expressions and to try to make the descriptions personal and unusual.  Then, possibly using these sensory descriptions, to think of suitable metaphors for describing the abstract.

This led us talk about showing not telling in our writing and about showing a character’s personality or state of mind through their actions.  We looked at the following short extract, taken from Tobias Wolff’s short story, Missing Person, which is an excellent example of showing what the character does (and gives the reader insight into his mood and true feelings) rather than simply telling us about the character’s emotions.

The monsignor asked Father Leo to stay on and teach religion in the parish elementary school.  Father Leo agree.  At the end of the interview the monsignor asked if there were any hard feelings.

“Not at all,” Father Leo said, and smiled.  That night, driving back to the refectory from a visit with his sister, Father Leo began to shake.  He was shaking so badly that he pulled onto the shoulder of the road, where he pounded his fist on the dashboard and yelled, “No hard feelings!  No hard feelings!”

But he came to like the teaching.

The final exercise was to see if by writing what a person did, the others in the group were able to identify with the emotion that the writer was describing.

Next week we’ll begin by interrogating ourselves and our fictional characters in an exercise designed to know more about who we’re writing about.  The more securely we know who they are, the more confident and accurate we will be in writing what they do.  This, in turn, will reveal character to our reader.

Thanks to everyone who attended and to Trowbridge Museum for hosting.  I’m looking forward to seeing you all on Tuesday.  The course is now full but please get in touch if you’re interested in attending future WordWeavers courses at Trowbridge Museum.

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